As New Zealand signs off a new bereavement leave clause.
This week, ministers in New Zealand have signed off a new bereavement leave clause making it the second country in the world, after India, to offer women and their partners paid leave after a miscarriage or still birth. But what are your rights for miscarriage leave in the UK?
MP Ginny Anderson, who put forward the bill, said it would allow mothers and their partners to ‘come to terms with their loss’ without taking sick leave.
Miscarriage is the most common kind of pregnancy loss, affecting one in four pregnancies and around a quarter of a million people in the UK each year, according to stats from Tommy’s, a miscarriage awareness charity.
But the current laws around paid leave and whether or not you’re entitled to it, here in the UK, are rather unclear. So, we’ve enlisted the help of Ruth Bender Atik, national director of the The Miscarriage Association, and legal expert and host of Get Legally Speaking Hatti Suvari, to help break down your current rights.
Why? Well, as Bender Atik says, “the loss of a pregnancy or baby at any gestation can be a traumatic experience. A loss at eight weeks of pregnancy may not be as shocking as a loss at 28 weeks – the physical experience is certainly very different – but the hopes, plans and dreams may be very much the same and the grief as heartfelt.”
Suvari agrees, sharing her own experience of miscarriage as an example. “Having a miscarriage can be one of the most stressful times for any woman and her family, and taking time off of work can be vital to recovering physically and mentally,” she shares. “As someone who has had an early miscarriage in June 2016, I can say that it was a very unpleasant, painful and distressing time in my life.”
For guidance and reassurance on your rights, keep scrolling.
So, what are the current laws on miscarriage leave in the UK?
According to Suvari, unfortunately, they don’t really exist. “Some workplaces will have provision in their employment terms for a ‘miscarriage policy’, or they may offer compassionate leave, which covers paid or unpaid leave in an emergency.”
But, sadly, when it comes to the law, there’s not actually any provision for pay for those who miscarry, she explains. “You don’t qualify for maternity leave or maternity pay, either.”
Bender Atik shares that women do have right to pregnancy-related sickness leave ‘if you can provide a doctor’s note stating this as the reason for leave’. “However, as above, this leave isn’t necessarily paid, and depends on the terms and conditions of your contract,” she shares.
In comparison, legally you have the right to two weeks’ paid parental bereavement leave after a stillbirth or neonatal death.
So, in a legal expert’s opinion, is the law fair?
Short answer: yes.
Suvari shares: “The law is very unfair on not providing provision for women who miscarry, and provisions clearly need to be made. Women and family who suffer from a miscarriage or a stillbirth should be able to take a paid period of time off work.”
She explains that in India, The Maternity Benefit Act 1961 provides provision for leave for miscarriage. The act states that:
In case of miscarriage, a woman shall, on production of such proof as may be prescribed, be entitled to leave with wages at the rate of maternity benefit for a period of six weeks immediately following the day of her miscarriage.
“Clearly, India as a country understands the absolute need for a women to be able to recover physically and mentally from the unfortunate event of a miscarriage,” she shares. “Depending on how far down the line the pregnancy was at the point of miscarriage, it could take weeks for a woman’s body to recover, and the mental recovery could take even longer.”
Does the law changing in New Zealand indicate it may change in the UK?
An interesting question, although not one that Suvari can give a straight answer too. While she thinks that it should, that doesn’t necessarily dictate that it will.
“The UK surely must now prop up and see that it is time to make changes to our laws, in order to reflect our needs as a society, and to support women and their partners on what is often a common occurrence,” Suvari shares.
“Our laws desperately need to support the many women who suffer from miscarriages and stillbirths and allow them to take paid time off of work.”
Whether they change or not, one thing’s for certain: how society and companies treat miscarriage leave must shift. The law may not change, but policies on miscarriage leave can. The time is now.
Why is it important for law change to allow paid leave for miscarriage?
There are several arguments. Mainly, because, as above, the loss of a pregnancy or baby at any gestation can be devastating. “It should be acknowledged, whatever the length of pregnancy” shares Bender Atik. “The lack of legal recognition of pre-24 week loss means there is no acknowledgement of these briefest lives.”
This may make those who lose babies earlier on feel that their lost lives are not as serious as those who carried for a longer term, which simply isn’t true. Any baby loss is devastating, and will take some grieving.
Bender Atik continues to say that, by changing the law to provide paid leave after a loss at any stage of pregnancy, we’d be providing this acknowledgement – that all lives matter. “It has the power to increase public awareness and understanding of the impact that even the earliest of losses can have,” she shares.
If you or someone you know has been affected by miscarriage, know you’re not alone. The Miscarriage association offers support from 9am to 4pm Monday to Friday on 01924 200 799 or email@example.com. Similarly, Tommy’s has baby loss support groups, or their midwives can be contacted Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm 0800 014 7800.